for National Geographic News
Yes, the Hubble Space Telescope will stay in business, at least until 2013.
NASA announced today that the U.S. space agency has found a way to safely service the aging telescope, which is famous for capturing spectacular images of the universe (photos: Hubble's top ten discoveries).
"We are going to add a service mission to the Hubble Space Telescope to the shuttle's manifest to be flown before [the space shuttle] retires," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said at an agency-wide meeting at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
The mission, likely to come in the spring of 2008, will also allow astronauts to upgrade the "eye in the sky" with new camera equipment.
Without a service mission, Hubble's gyroscopes and batteries will give out by 2010. (How does the space telescope work? Explore our interactive Hubble schematic.)
But the Hubble's replacement, the James Webb Space Telescope, isn't scheduled for operation until 2013 (read "Hubble Successor Under Way, Will See Even Farther" [June 8, 2004]).
In the intervening years astronomers would have no space telescope to help them study phenomena such as colliding galaxies, black holes, and dark matter.
Craig Wheeler, president of the American Astronomical Society, says repairs and upgrades to Hubble will allow cutting edge space science to continue for years to come.
"Astronomers are not wasting their time on an aging, outmoded instrument doing this," he said. "It's still a first-class astronomical tool."
Hubble has been in need of a service call since former NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe scrubbed a repair mission following the 2003 Columbia shuttle disaster (read "U.S. Space Shuttle Columbia, Crew Lost" [February 1, 2003]).
Since then, Congress, scientific panels, and the public have urged NASA to reconsider a service mission and keep the telescope operational.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES